What would you do? - Todd Dionne

We are a nation of immigrants, unless, of course, you are Native American. It is likely that someone in your family passed through the immigration lines at Ellis Island, or some of you may even be able to trace an earlier arrival to this great continent.

My ancestry is a mixed-and-mashed lineage, containing French nobility, Canadian commoner, American Indian -- and that is just on my father's side of the family. America, by all rights, is a nation that has been built by, established by, and defended by, well, aliens (the human kind).

I was forced to realize this recently when I traveled to the country of El Salvador on a mission trip. While there, I witnessed the suffering of many men, women and children, who are in abject poverty. There was no government assistance for food. No ability to get medical care or dental care. Little opportunity, and no money to buy needed things, like clothing or toiletries, and there was no running water in the villages that we visited.

Only a few people that I met could speak English, but they loved America. They even longed to be in a country that has so many opportunities, especially a country where the government is "for the people, by the people."

One learning encounter really opened my eyes. I met men who were intelligent and highly skilled, but who had reached the age of being unemployable. In El Salvador, men over the age of about 35 cannot find jobs, because employers can hire much younger people (and there are plenty of them) for less pay.

Could you imagine that right in the prime age of starting a family and getting your feet off the ground, you are told that you are too old to work? How could you provide? "I'll start my own business," but there is no money. "I'll plant a garden," but there is no seed. "I'll borrow some money," but the banks can charge whatever interest they want and shake you down, if you don't repay on time, or you could borrow from a "private financier," who might threaten to take one of your children, or your life -- if you can't repay.

Seeing all of this gave me a fresh perspective on the issue of illegal aliens and the heated the debate about it. My stance has shifted from "build the wall and keep 'em out," to a more compassionate one. The change came when I realized that this was not an issue to be discussed in a vacuum and that these are people (Mexicans/Central Americans) who are in dire need of help. But we have made them a political club for political parties to hit each other over the head with, and divide us while doing it.

Worst yet, it has become an issue that dehumanizes the people who are hurting and causes you and I to draw lines in the sand with each other, which then degenerate into two problems: First, you and I disagree to a point that angers us so badly that we cannot see the humanity in each other. Second, we overlook the needs of our fellow man.

So, my mind began to change as I worked with these wonderful, graceful and thankful people. Greater still, my heart was moved by the Lord as he stressed to me how much he loved the orphan, the widow, the single mother, the crying babies, and the bent-over old man in Cara Suscia, who had never heard the gospel, but received it with such deep joy that he could not stop crying.

I was reminded of what Peter told the beggar, "Silver and gold we do not have, rise up and walk." Eventually, at each site, our food bags ran out, day would turn into evening, and we would have to leave the area knowing that we had only scratched the surface of their needs, but for some, they rose up and walked.

They were encouraged, some believed the gospel and realized their greater need had been met that day, and others had their physical infirmities treated, and they would have, at least, one meal a day for a few days.

I tell you all of this because, as you are hearing the debates and engaging other people with your opinion, remember the people. Don't allow politics to cause you to loose your own humanity or spirituality. America is the greatest country on earth and still has the greatest opportunities for anyone who will work hard. That alone is still drawing people from all over the world to be a part of it.

There are so many who long to come to this country who have honorable intentions. With this in mind, ask yourself, "If my family was starving, if my child had tattered clothes, if I could not find work, not due to laziness or lack of skill, but due to greed and unfair employers, would I be tempted to cross the border?"

I leave you with one last comment made by Jesus himself. A command that surpasses all politics, personal opinions, laws and borders, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." And if you must ask, "Who is my neighbor?" please read Luke 10:25-37.

Rev. Todd Dionne is pastor of Corinth Baptist Church in Jonesboro.